Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Bootle- based Donoghue Solicitors, is supporting Liberty, the human rights and civil liberties campaign group, in its fight to stop the government from extending secret trials.
Government secret courts
It may surprise many to know that we already have secret trials in this country. They are presently restricted to limited immigration courts and cases where national security is said to be at stake. They allow the Government to exclude the other party and his (or her) lawyers from court hearings.
If the government gets its way, the Justice and Security Bill, which is currently proceeding through Parliament, may extend these controversial Closed Material Procedures (also known as Secret Courts) to ordinary civil law cases.
The Bill is being promoted by Government ministers, intelligence officials and civil servants, who are trying to force it through despite objections from Coalition government rebels, Labour opposition and lawyers like Kevin Donoghue.
As Kevin Donoghue explains, “although it is anticipated that national security will be raised in Closed Material Procedures cases, those outside of the Government and intelligence agencies involved will have no way of knowing if this is true. Consequently, it will make it easier for the State to cover up wrongdoing, such as torture and rendition (the practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects and sending them to secret detention centres abroad).”
He continues, “As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police I am worried that Closed Material Procedures could be extended to cases which have nothing to do with national security. For example, the Government could use them to stop people claiming police abuse compensation as a result of police brutality; limit legitimate protests; and stop wounded soldiers claiming compensation after accidents involving faulty equipment.”
Presently, cases such as those described by Mr. Donoghue above are dealt with in public courts, where judges, and crucially the other party (and their lawyers), hear all the Government’s evidence and have the opportunity to challenge it. If Secret Courts are extended, Special Advocate lawyers would be appointed to represent the other party instead.
Special advocates are prevented from telling their clients of the evidence presented by the Government, so cannot assist them if that evidence can be challenged. This means that the person involved does not get to know the full case against them, and is deprived of the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented. Consequently, a victim of police brutality would never know about false evidence presented to the court used to justify the police’s conduct, and crucially, neither would the judge who decides the case.
Threat to Justice
Kevin Donoghue warns, “Closed Material Procedures are a threat to the Rule of Law. We all have the right to a fair trial, equality of arms, and open justice. If this Bill becomes law the State will be able to hide wrongdoing and prevent legitimate scrutiny. We owe it to ourselves and our children to fight back.”
The Justice and Security Bill now been returned to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. Kevin Donoghue has signed Liberty’s petition (which can be seen here) and is pursuing the matter with Joe Benton, the MP who represents his constituency: Bootle, North Liverpool.
Mr. Donoghue invites concerned citizens to contact their own MPs, and encourages people interested in making compensation claims against the police to contact him via his firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk, or by phone on 08000 124 209.